Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Message In a Concertina

(My dad, Richard Brigham -- 1929-2014)

I'm neither religious nor spiritual, but when my father passed away a month ago today, I came to understand why people believe in heaven. Honestly, I don't know what I believe, but I experienced a moment a few days after my dad's death that stopped me short and made me give hard thought to the afterlife.

My father was unconscious for the last three days of his life. During that time, my mother, sister, brother and I talked to him (giving him updates on the Red Sox and UConn basketball, telling we loved him, recounting old stories) and also sang to him. We sang an old song that we'd grown up on, called "Skinamarinky Dinky Dink," many times.

But it was my mother's beautiful rendition of "True Love," a song written by Cole Porter in 1956 and made popular by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly in "High Society," that I found the most touching. The song was popular during the time that my parents were dating, and it was the closest thing they had to a wedding song.

My mother sang it several times to my father while he was in the hospital. She didn't remember all the words, but did recall the most important ones:

While I give to you and you give to me

True love, true love

So on and on it will always be

True love, true love

In the days following my dad's death, my mother, sister, brother and I began planning a memorial service. Four days after his passing, my sister emailed a YouTube clip of the song "True Love," featuring Crosby and Kelly from "High Society." We knew we had to include the song in the service in some fashion.

Here's the clip:

You'll notice that Crosby is playing a small accordion, called a concertina. About an hour after I watched the video that Thursday, I went for a walk. I needed to clear my head a bit after what had been several long, stressful, painful and sad days.

I walked, as usual, along the path that runs next to the Charles River through Newton, Watertown, Waltham and other area towns. I came to a road crossing, and decided that, rather than proceed on the path as I always do, that I could walk along the road, crossing the river on a bridge.

Just a few seconds after diverting onto this new route, I passed a young guy wearing a backpack and playing...a concertina.

Never in my life had I seen anybody playing a concertina while walking down the street. And I'd certainly never seen this guy before on my walks. Why did I change course from my usual walk? I can't say. After I passed the guy, I turned and looked to make sure I wasn't seeing things. Sure enough, he was continuing on his way, unaware that he'd played a part in not only making my day, but also in sending me off into cosmic wonderings.

I took this experience the only way I could: as a sign from my dad that he was OK, wherever he was (and, as I told my kids, wherever he was, he was surely enjoying plenty of desserts). My brother, sister and mother have all experienced their own signs from my father. Mine involved music, which is such a huge and important part of my life.

I think about my dad all the time, and sometimes talk to him. I don't know if I'll have another experience like I did with the concertina, but I know that, as my nearly 12-year-old son, Owen told me, "You can always talk to Big Gramps."